Our Baby is Fourteen

October 31, 2011

It was Lucy’s birthday yesterday and I made homemade pizza for a family party to celebrate. I always remember my dear, late mother-in-law saying of Lucy, as a toddler, “What a doll.” She still is, cheerful and kind.

Happy birthday, sweetpea!

Sorcerer’s Apprentice

October 30, 2011

I had just finished morning chores yesterday when D was leaving his hunting camp. As I had just collected fresh eggs, I offered to cook him a quick “thank you” omelet in the apartment while I warmed up with a cup of coffee.

I discussed my plan for the day, moving Mike’s wood, burning it, and spreading the sand in the barn paddock.

“I could bring my tractor out, spread that sand in a few minutes,” he said, between bites.

“Oh, no,” I said, thanking him. I hate to be beholden and he has already done me many favors.  “I’ll get it all spread by hand.”

“I shoulda brung the sand out early, when the mud was froze. Ground’s hard now — I could get it close to the barn.”

“Yes, but I’m just really grateful to have it in there at all.”

He left, I took the milk home to strain it, and I was just climbing back into my truck when my phone rang.

“Me and Emma are at the dump, gettin’ you another load. We’ll be there in ten minutes.”

The second load of bank sand was just as large as the first but with the ground like iron D was indeed able to back right on top of the mud next to the barn to dump it. I held his granddaughter in my arms and she cheered, “Yay, Papa!” as the new tons slid heavily off the dump truck.

Of course I was thrilled by his kindness but looking at a total of about sixteen tons of sand to shovel, I also secretly felt a little tired.

The sky turned dark, the wind kicked up, and my nose was streaming in the cold as I plodded all afternoon between tending Mike’s fire and pitching sand.

I got a little more than a quarter of the sand spread by the time I had to quit to make supper. DH called to say he was stuck in a snowstorm in Connecticut on I-84. The traffic was moving so slowly it took him four hours to drive ten miles. He stopped for the night just before midnight.

With luck DH will be home this morning and this afternoon I will finish spreading the remaining eleven tons of sand. I haven’t been drinking much recently but I think by evening we might both be ready for a medicinal glass of wine.

* * * * *

Addendum and Correction: DH just called. I had misunderstood his last email. He was still stranded on I-84 in unmoving traffic at midnight and the road block was not unsnarled until almost 7:00 this morning! He spent the night stuck in his car in the snowstorm, cold and hungry and hoping not to run out of gas. I cannot imagine. What an epic! He hopes to be home in time for lunch.

First Winter Salvo

October 29, 2011

This morning it is 17° F. Yesterday it was 16°. On Thursday we had snowflakes sifting from a dark grey sky off and on all day. All the mountain ridges are frosted white. (Double-click to enlarge.) Winter is firing its warning shots across my bow: Get ready! I’m bearing down on you with big guns trained!

At the moment the horizons are beautiful, but unnerving if you have work to do outside. Tick, tock; tick, tock. The ground is starting to freeze and at any moment we could have a snowstorm that blankets the ground until May. I am not ready. I am never ready.

Today will be Grunt Labor day. Yesterday morning my friend Mike dropped off a truckload of brush for me to burn for him. Mike has done a million favors for me, he lives on a small lot in town, and I’m happy to have a chance to do something for him. Unfortunately in the dark he dropped it in the wrong place, dangerously close to the cabin and bunkhouse. I’m hoping I can somehow lasso the whole pile with some of DH’s old climbing rope and drag it out into the center of the cleared knoll. If not, I’ll have to throw it all into my truck piece by piece and offload it the same way, before torching it.

Meanwhile last night on his way out to go hunting D dropped off a truckload of sand for me. The entrance to the paddock from the barn is six inches deep in mud. It would be best if I could scrape the mud away and lay down road mix gravel and stones (here called “crusher run”), but I have neither heavy equipment nor $325 for crusher. So D, who works near the dump, kindly picked up ten dollars’ worth of bank sand there for me and brought it out. Due to the mud he could not bring the heavy truck close to the barn. He was concerned that he would get stuck.

“I’ve got some chains. I could pull you out with my truck.”

A snort. “You ain’t gonna pull me out with that toy.”

In the end I told him to dump the 8 tons of sand twenty-five feet away from the worst mud, where the ground was still hard.

D was dubious. “Long way to move it with a shovel.”

“Oh, no problem,” I said cheerily. “I moved 20 tons of gravel by hand inside the barn.”

I didn’t mention that was back in 2008 when I was a sprightly 49. I think I may take ibuprofen before I head out today. And I will try not to worry too much that neither one of these projects was even on my already long Get-Done-Before-Winter List.

A Limit to Good Manners

October 28, 2011

DH’s new iPhone4 arrived yesterday and he was as excited as a child. He may not have a handy bone in his body, but he adores gadgets and technology. Luckily for him, because he is on the road almost every week of the year and must be able to work in trains and airplanes, his job keeps him well-supplied with the latest upgrades.

Last night he asked me to edit some writing for him. Normally DH is reserved and quiet, even phlegmatic, and he couldn’t very well ask me to work and then constantly interrupt my efforts, but as I cut and slashed I could hear him in the next room chortling with glee. “Wow! Look at this!”

At last Lucy wandered out of her bedroom and he had a devoted audience.

The software that had captured his heart was Siri, the “personal assistant” that recognizes voice commands and can schedule appointments, set reminder alarms, send texts, place telephone calls, look things up on Google, even recommend the nearest restaurants — just by talking to it. Gosh!

I could hear the excited chatter in the living room as DH and Lucy experimented happily.

“Siri, please send this photo to Susan.”

There was a pause. The iPhone was obviously stumped.

“Please send this photo to Susan.”

Another long pause. Finally the telephone voice: “I do not understand this word, plaze.”

I burst out laughing, and called across to them, “I always get after D and tell him normal people say Please and Thank you but I guess you have to draw the line when you’re talking to robots!”

DH and Lucy experimented right up until I served supper. “Siri, I want to send my wife flowers. Where shall I buy them?” (“No!” I cried, but they were just having fun.) The only stumbling block was DH’s reflexive politeness, which kept baffling the phone. Every few minutes I’d hear Lucy remind him, “It’s the please thing, Dad.”

DH left early this morning on another business trip. I’m guessing the new iPhone4 will keep us in touch. Thanks, Siri!

Cadbury Moves On

October 27, 2011

I sold my new registered Clun Forest ram, Cadbury, yesterday afternoon. He is going to a serious flock up near Potsdam, two hours away, with more than fifty ewes (sometimes more than a hundred) and sixty acres of grazing. The shepherd who bought him has bred sheep since 1974 and is intensely knowledgeable. I couldn’t be happier for him.

Why did I sell Cadbury, after saving up for him so long and driving so far?

Several reasons. First: from the marks on their rumps, he had bred all my ewes (though not my two ewe lambs, who will now go unbred — but that is fine; they’ll grow big and strong and be among the first bred next fall; and meanwhile my lambing season should not be drawn out for an extra month.) With his job done, Cadbury was now just another large and hungry mouth to feed.

Second: Money. I have too many claims on my limited farm cash right now. I was able to sell Cadbury for exactly what I paid for him, so the cost of the gas to get him turns out to have been a very reasonable stud fee for his excellent genetics.

Third: this is the amorphous, intangible reason. I work alone most of the time on the farm, often in rotten weather. There is no one to share my ups and downs. I am frequently tired and muddy, or half-frozen, or sunburned, or bug-bitten, or plain discouraged. I count on the regular lifts of joy I get from looking out at the land or the animals.

The points (face and legs) of Clun Forest sheep can range from rich black to tan. I simply love the crisp look of black. The beauty lifts my heart. I know it is silly, when his physical conformation, fleece, and temperament were so nice, but Cadbury’s washy coloring was such a disappointment to me that when I looked at him, instead of joy I felt a pang. What a mistake I made.

Meanwhile I’ve been injured several times recently. About six weeks ago I tripped climbing out of the pig pen. The toe of my boot caught on the electronet. As I had a bucket in each hand, I had no way to break my fall and landed heavily on my left, good knee. Ever since I’ve been unable to kneel and I often groan getting up from a chair.

I have also managed to hurt my left shoulder. Simply to muck the deep bedding out of the sheep stall I had to take copious doses of ibuprofen. Lucy looked up my symptoms on the internet and it appears I probably have a rotator cuff injury, often seen as “a result of aging,” she read. Aging appeared in the article numerous times.

“I am becoming an old crock,” I said to DH as Lucy put a heated compress on my shoulder.

DH is seven years older. “Just wait. This is only the start.”

My little farm depends entirely on me. It has always been clear that if for any reason I couldn’t do the chores for any length of time, all my dear animals would have to go. Last week the wife of one of DH’s old friends — beautiful, exactly my age, and apparently perfectly healthy — died of an embolism.  Suddenly I thought, who knows how long I will be able to raise sheep? Why should I keep this impressive ram who nonetheless makes me feel blue?

The next day I put Cadbury up for sale. I was lucky to find the perfect buyer. (If I hadn’t, I’d have kept him.) Next year I’ll buy another ram … and I’ll be careful to make sure that in addition to all his other fine qualities, he has a look that makes my heart sing.

two of my black-faced Clun lambs in August

Another Garage Apartment Update

October 26, 2011

Here’s the garage apartment, from the outside, back in late August. Notice it’s still unfinished? I haven’t had the cash or the time to address having the siding put on. Now I’ve got a small chunk saved and am interviewing carpenters to gather bids.

The first to come in almost made me pass out. Not including materials, just labor, the bid was twice what I had expected. Holy cow, Batman! This is far beyond my pocketbook. I hope the other four bids will be significantly lower. If not, I am wondering if I could learn to put up the clapboards myself.

Meanwhile Lucy and I have been slowly tackling the inside. My hope is to have the apartment ready to go on the market as a ski rental this winter. We have furnished it almost entirely with second-hand items from Craigslist and Freecycle. Nothing is elegant but it is functional and sturdy. (Lucy was particularly happy when we scored the second-hand L.L. Bean braided rugs.) Every six weeks when we are in the big city we buy a few more linens or kitchen supplies from Costco, Walmart, or Overstock.com. Slowly the apartment is taking shape.

The kitchen/dining/living room (ignore the trash can!).

We still need pots and pans, a toaster, coffee maker, microwave, telephone, and television. The irony is that it is likely that the apartment’s television will be more up-to-date than our elderly Sony at home.

The bedroom (still searching for bedside tables and a chest of drawers).

The bathroom. I need to hang a shower curtain rod, towel racks, and a toilet paper holder.  Then, of course, buy a shower curtain, towels, etc.

Looking out of the bedroom, across the living room/dining room toward the future deck. It’s not clear to me if I can get a Certificate of Occupancy before the deck is built. This will be crucial.

There is still cosmetic finish work to be done inside: some staining, some missing trim to be installed, closet doors to be taken down and re-hung. The concrete entry floor needs patching and painting. Above the shower must be tiled. I have to figure out a banister, and then sand and varnish the staircase. Some of this I have no idea how to do, but I’m sure I’ll learn. “There must be a book about it” is my motto.

It is all waiting for me, the minute winter shuts down all the projects outside on the land.

Yummy Diabetic Ice Cream

October 25, 2011

My friend D has been gamely following the diet prescribed by Dr. Richard K. Bernstein in Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. Bernstein is himself diabetic (Type I) and has been controlling his blood sugar successfully for 65 years. The program works. The minute D strung together four straight days on the low carbohydrate/high fat regimen — reminiscent of the Atkins diet — his blood glucose numbers fell by half.

The problem is that they don’t stay there.

The villain of the story is ice cream. Ice cream calls to D like a Siren luring him to the rocks. “Just a tiny cone,” the voices sing, or “— just a McDonald’s sundae…” One small slip will elevate his blood sugar for days.

Obviously I had to come up with something.

I have a cow. I have a Cuisinart ice cream maker. I have a book of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream recipes. Eh, voilà!



2 large eggs

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk (whole milk is marginally lower carb)

2 teaspoons imitation vanilla extract (imitation has fewer carbs)

18 drops liquid sucralose (EZ-Sweetz; 6 drops = 1/4 cup sugar)*

1. Whisk your eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Whisk in the liquid sucralose, then continue whisking until completely blended. Pour in your cream, milk, and vanilla and whisk to blend.

2. Transfer the sweet mixture to your ice cream maker, and freeze while churning. Without the heft of sugar, it will take a few minutes longer to solidify, but it will get there.


* Liquid sucralose is easy to find by mail, and important for diabetics who can’t tolerate carbohydrates. Sucralose was created by manipulating sugar molecules. Splenda is a well-known brand of sucralose that has been made into powder form. It is sold in packets and can be used in recipes cup for cup as a replacement for sugar. Unfortunately the bulking agents used in this process are maltodextrin and dextrose, both sugars. While Splenda is low calorie and useful for dieters, it has carbohydrates that will affect the blood sugar of anyone with diabetes.


By simply substituting liquid sucralose for sugar, the carbohydrate count in the ice cream dropped from 23 to a mere 3 carbs per serving. (It appears to me that one can do the same to produce low-carb Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate and low-carb Ben and Jerry’s Coffee ice cream.) My husband and Lucy were my taste testers. They thought it was great.

When the fresh ice cream was creaming out of the top of the Cuisinart, I stopped the machine. Because D lives and works across town and I will be dropping these off with his weekly lunches, I scooped the ice cream into individual serving cups.This also helps anyone keep in mind the size of a serving (1/2 cup).

I had nothing disposable on hand but cheap plastic party cups, which I don’t recommend. I will have to find paper ice cream cups. The plastic becomes brittle and shatters easily when cold.

And this low-carb Ben & Jerry’s gets very cold. It is delicious, and very close in taste to the real thing, but its “mouth feel” is different. Though ice cream manufacturers boast of their creamy products, it turns out that the granularity of sugar contributes to some of that scoopable softness. Pure cream is mostly water and can freeze almost as hard as an ice cube.

The solution is to either eat it fresh, or let it soften at room temperature for five or ten minutes — if you can wait that long.

D dug into his trial serving with a spoon.

He looked up. “It’s good!” he said, and then gave me a small, naughty smile. “Where’s the chocolate sauce?”

Here is the nutritional breakdown for Low-Carb Ben & Jerry’s French Vanilla. The recipe makes 8 servings, each slightly over 1/2 cup.

Sheep in Shock

October 24, 2011

My sheep are shocked and horrified to be home. Where is our grass?

Here is my ram Cadbury grazing at Betty’s only a few days ago.

Here is a gaggle of the girls foraging sadly yesterday among the weeds on top of Allen’s peninsula.

It will be remembered that my friend Allen created this peninsula in 2009, building a boulder wall and burying tons of rocks behind it to get them out of our way. The whole peninsula is a thin skim of soil over solid granite five feet down.

Not much wants to grow on this granite layer cake — thickening and improving the soil is on my list of future projects — and it is still too rough to mow. Thus the overgrown weeds. However, after all the rain we’ve had recently, the entrances to my pastures are churned deep with mud. So for the time being, at least, I’m feeding my girls hay on the peninsula, to keep them clean and dry and to avoid foot rot.

Though they have plenty of hay, the sheep wander around disconsolately, obviously hoping to stumble upon something green and juicy, reminiscent of the bounteous salad bar they’ve enjoyed the last five months.

My ewe Lily even trotted over to baa in my face. I could read her lips. Surely you jest!

I’m just glad they’re safely home. It is 26° F this morning and our first snow is predicted for Wednesday.

A Climb Up Mt. Marcy

October 23, 2011

Lucy hiked Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York, with a school group of eight children yesterday. I thought about her all day. Down here in the lowlands it was 40°, raw, with clouds scudding along the muddy ground and a cold drizzle falling. Blech!

I am not someone who particularly enjoys exercise for its own sake. I like to work, to see something accomplished. Walking up a mountain seems vaguely pointless to me, unless I am exercising a dog. So you can imagine that I am, at very best, a fair-weather hiker. Yesterday as I baked bread, stewed a chicken carcass for soup, and folded laundry I would peer out at the slanting rain and think: poor Lulu!

She had a blast. The moment they gained a bit of elevation the rain turned to snow.

Marcy is a long hike, slightly more than fifteen miles round trip. Here’s a short video of the typical, advertised view from the summit of Mt. Marcy:

Here was Lucy’s view yesterday:

But she didn’t mind at all. At almost fourteen, she is a cheerful soul. She had a long, fun day with friends, and that was enough.

The Sheep Are Home

October 22, 2011

It has been grey, rainy, windy, and in the high thirties and low forties. The tallest peaks on the horizon are dusted with snow. I have been watching the weather reports anxiously, praying I could outrace winter and get my sheep flock home from their “summer camp” a mile down the highway. Yesterday it was safely accomplished. Hooray!

One day last week D was at my property, preparing to leave after hunting, and I asked if he had ten minutes to spare to give me some advice. I had received permission to borrow the school stock trailer and Betty had given me permission to cut some small poplars so I could drive the trailer into her pasture. Would D be willing to ride down to Betty’s with me and tell me which saplings I needed to cut? He would.

At Betty’s we walked around the cramped entrance to the field. In every direction were trees, boulders, saplings, and snow fence.

“Don’t need to cut nothin’. Pull them posts, push back the fence, cut your wheels this way, then that way, maybe back a little here — should be OK, go straight into the field.”

I was incredulous. “You really think I could do it?”

He shrugged. “Dunno. I could.”

I laughed. “Well, that does me no good! Of course you could do it.”

That’s when he told me he planned to take a day off from work Friday to go hunting, and that if I met him with the trailer at 10 AM, he would be willing to drive it for me.

What a relief!

The plan went off with scarcely a bobble. On Thursday morning I moved the sheep up the long field to graze alongside the cattle-panel trap I’d built last month to catch the lambs. Thursday afternoon I finished the heavy work of mucking the deep bedding out of the sheep stall, and spread the floor with fresh shavings.

Yesterday morning after chores I picked up the trailer, D, and a bucket of sweet feed. While D maneuvered the truck and trailer through the narrow, twisty pass into the field, I lured the sheep into the trap. D backed the trailer to the trap and we opened the gate.

My Clun Forest sheep are skittish around people at the best of times. After a summer out on pasture they were panicky. Most of them jumped into the trailer and then ricocheted out again in a terrified flurry of hooves. It took us two trips to trap and haul them all. We turned them into the clean sheep stall.

We had done it! My sheep were home! After such a long week of anxiety, I was so relieved I suddenly felt almost boneless with exhaustion. I cleaned out the trailer and we returned it. I thanked D, he left —  and I went home for a nap.

At evening chores the ewes were not happy to be presented with hay after fresh grass, and were loud in their protests. The horse and older cattle were only slightly fazed by the noise, and came in out of the rain to their stalls without hesitation. The calf Fee, however, born in July, had never seen or heard a sheep and clearly believed that angry monsters were in the barn, ready to eat her up. I spent ten minutes slipping and squelching through the mud to herd her in.

When at last I closed the barn doors for the night, I climbed into my truck and just sat there for a moment. I’d made it through the scary wave — and though I still have a long list of chores to accomplish before snowfall, I should enjoy at least a brief period of calm water.

I couldn’t have done most of these jobs without the guy in camouflage. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen so much of D that we’ve become easy friends. I am always scolding him like a dorm mother about his terrible language and rough manners. (He now occasionally says “please” or “thank you” but then groans theatrically, complaining, “Man, that hurts!” and laughs.) As I have always suspected, he is a very kind person beneath his bluster.

Not that he’d let you know it. At one point I remarked, “You are so patient and good with the animals, you could be a farmer.” He rolled his eyes, snarling: “Lovely!”

When he left I told him how grateful I was for his repeated help over my very hard week. “You were really, really kind. Thank you, D.”

“You’re welcome,” he said gruffly, and then clutched his chest. “Arrggh!”